‘Report Inappropriate’ and the Policing of Women’s Bodies on Social Networks

‘Report Inappropriate’ was originally a very short series of self-portraits (which I’ve now reduced to just one self-portrait) made in response to the misuse of Instagram’s ‘Report inappropriate’ option. Looking back at pieces of your artwork a few weeks/months after you’ve made them can be really quite useful. I’ve done this recently and found that certain works were more effective if they were just one image, rather than a series of images. It also helps you to evaluate whether you feel that a piece of work is successful or not, particularly if you’re not too sure about it at the time when you produce it.

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‘Report Inappropriate’ is inspired by a photo uploaded to Clandestine Collective’s Instagram account that was later reported as ‘inappropriate nudity’. The photo that was uploaded was my ‘Good Enough to Eat’ piece, which explores the idea of genitalia being a taboo subject in society. The fact that this was reported by a user and then deleted by Instagram proves exactly why I made the piece of work in the first place.

At the time I remember feeling really frustrated, I thought ‘why follow a feminist art collective if you’re so easily offended by pubic hair and vaginas?!’ I felt that my frustration would be put to better use by making a new piece of work, hence why I produced ‘Report Inappropriate’. When I first made the work, I wanted it to centre around my breasts, bum and vagina, three things that are thought to be inappropriate to be revealed online.

Body policing is something that happens a lot online, as well as in real life. The main sources that I’ve witnessed intense online body policing are on Tumblr and celebrities’ Instagram accounts. I used to see people I followed on Tumblr receive disgusting messages like “you’re fat”, “you’re so overweight, it’s disgusting” and “you’re fat, you’re ugly and no one likes you. you should just go kill yourself”. And as much as people can tell these individuals to ignore the hateful messages that they receive, as they build up they start to have an impact.

As I said, body policing happens in real life too. I’m sure that every woman will have been involved in, or overheard, a conversation criticising either your weight or someone else’s. It’s incredibly easy to fall into picking out all of your supposed flaws like a ‘muffin top’, ‘bingo wings’ or an ‘overhang’, it’s something I’m definitely guilty of. This is then heightened by you comparing your weight to the weight of those around you. I’ve always been ‘average size’ (if that’s what you want to call it, I personally don’t agree with the use of terms ‘normal’ or ‘healthy size’ about weight) but I had, and still have, a lot of very slim friends. I still compare my weight to theirs and end up thinking “they can pull off those types of outfits so much better than I can” and “they can wear a short dress without tights, whereas I can’t” and so on. Criticising yourself then develops even more as you start to exaggerate your supposed flaws, all because you’re looking through the “i’m fat” glasses, when in reality there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.

It’s probably obvious, but there are all kinds of different body shapes, although this might not appear to be the case if you look at what’s presented as the ideal body shape by the media and the fashion industry. Each of these body shapes is perfect, none of them deserve to be scrutinized. It’s like that age-old saying “the world would be boring if we were all the same”, and as cringey as that statement is, it really is true if you think about it.

Although it’s important to outline the negative impact that sources like the fashion industry and the media may have on women, it’s also just as important to allow women to make their own choices in relation to their own body. If a slim woman wants to start exercising in order to tone up or just because she enjoys it, she should not be criticized for doing so. In the same way, a woman who is labelled as ‘fat’ or ‘overweight’ should not be criticized for exercising or choosing not to exercise, particularly when people say cruel things “Why’s she exercising? She’s not going to lose any weight.” It’s your own body, if you want to tone up or lose weight because that personally makes you happier, then do it. Alternatively, if you don’t want to lose weight and are totally happy as you are, then that’s absolutely fine too. We need to learn to stop policing women’s bodies and begin to reflect on our feelings about our own bodies, where these feelings come from and how to overcome some of these negative feelings.

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